Dealing with insomnia—solutions beyond drug dependency
Insomnia is a difficult problem which is becoming particularly common in these times. All sorts of worries and anxieties, the stresses of everyday life, various fears, psychological problems and other reasons which may not be easy to define, often result in physical and emotional tensions, so that at the end of the day many people may be unable to relax and fall asleep.
If this happens only occasionally, one must simply spend the next day feeling tired and probably not in good mood. In many cases however, insomnia tends to become a permanent situation. The person becomes anxious at the thought that the night is coming and that he or she will “have to” sleep. “I am afraid that again, I am not going to succeed in getting some sleep tonight” one starts thinking, or even “Unfortunately, I know that I am not going to sleep.”
People are often advised to take certain measures to facilitate sleep and are asked to shape their lifestyles accordingly. Such measures usually include going to bed at the same time every evening, special dieting, listening to tranquil music, getting up if unable to sleep and engaging in activities until one feels ready for sleep, etc. Many people then find that their lifestyles become limited; i.e., “I can’t stay a little late at night with friends from time to time,” “I don’t like having to stay up at night doing things while everybody else is sleeping, waiting till I am sleepy enough to go to bed,” “why should I be so sensitive that the slightest deviation from the diet suggested for me will keep me awake all night?” “I feel as if I have an illness; all of my life has to revolve around it,” etc. Besides, such measures do not always solve the problem.
In cases like these, sooner or later many people seek help through tranquilizers or sleeping pills.
Insomnia is quite a complicated problem for conventional medicine. Sleep-inducing drugs tend to create dependency, this being the reason why they are recommended as a short term treatment only. Often insomnia is considered as a symptom of either an overt or covert depression, thus treated with antidepressants. Quite commonly, the side effects of the above drugs are not tolerated by many who prefer to take no medicine for their sleep difficulties, deciding to simply live with insomnia at the cost of their livelihood and sense of well being.
Towards a natural treatment of insomnia
Is it possible to treat insomnia by natural means? Can we take a closer look at the particular psychosomatic situations found at the basis of insomnia? Flower essences are especially effective in balancing agitated states of mind and bringing serenity and peace back to the mind and body. Let’s see what we might suggest from the flower essence therapy point of view.
There are three well-known remedies from the original repertoire of Dr. Bach which, according to my observations, have proven very helpful to many people suffering sleep difficulties. These remedies are the Cherry Plum, the Impatiens and the White Chestnut.
Cherry Plum—relaxing and letting go
Cherry Plum, thanks to its ability to help someone relax and "let go," aids in calming our physical-emotional system, so that it can surrender to the sleeping process. Interestingly, our language stresses the importance of “surrender” (“letting go”) as the predominant mind-body status concerning sleep, as shown by phrases like “falling asleep.”* One can easily observe how people suffering insomnia can not easily make the transition from a state of active alertness and conscious control to one of relaxation and letting go.
(*In the Greek language, we find the same expression “falling asleep,” as well as “taken by sleep,” which also indicates the passivity inherent in the sleep (“hypnos”) phenomenon.
The Impatiens flower essence deals with the impatience and anxiety that arise when someone cannot sleep. One hears the clock counting minutes and hours, but the much awaited sleep does not seem to come. Time becomes an upsetting issue in the person’s thoughts, as one starts getting nervous, tossing and turning in bed, counting the hours left until morning and seeing that the time that remains is becoming less and less, minute after minute.
Even when one is not concerned with having to get up at a certain time early in the morning, the very fact of having to just lie in bed and wait to fall asleep while not feeling sleepy is usually enough to make someone nervous and impatient.
This kind of stress intensifies existing tension, establishing a vicious cycle.
White Chestnut—calming the mind
The White Chestnut flower essence helps the mind calm down and get rid of unwanted thoughts. One of the most frequent causes of insomnia is found in the many different kinds of persistent thoughts which keep flooding the mind, while someone is “trying” to sleep. Thoughts and images from the previous day, anticipation about the coming day, all sorts of upsetting, exciting or worrying thoughts or simply irrelevant thoughts that come and go without reason all the time, keep the mind in a hyperactive state, exhausting it, not allowing the state of sleep.
This aspect of insomnia gradually subsides with this particular flower essence.
Flower essences improve in a gradual manner
Most of the common cases of insomnia, especially so-called “initial insomnia” (difficulty falling asleep) seem to respond very well to these three essences. This happens in both temporary and chronic problems of insomnia, of known or unknown cause. The essences in almost all cases are necessary to be taken simultaneously in a combination. Soon, not only can one fall asleep much easier , but also the sleep quality improves greatly so that one wakes up in the morning better rested and refreshed . Improvement takes place in a gradual manner, as the days pass and the stress levels are reduced more and more. Usually, people report that although it may still take them some time to fall asleep, they can enjoy a good rest in their beds, relaxed, not thinking about sleep. Then they start sleeping sooner and sooner, until sleep is no longer an issue.
In order for the essences to have these positive effects, it is necessary that one takes them regularly, several times (at least four times) a day, and not just before sleep. Flower essences themselves do not have a sedating or sleep-inducing effect, and this is why they do not produce drowsiness in the daytime. They simply transform the negative emotional states which obstruct natural sleep patterns.
In cases which seem to require further help, a combination of Boronia (Boronia ledifolia) for persistent thoughts and mind-chat, Crowea (Crowea saligna) for worry and anxiety, and Black-Eyed Susan (Tetratheca ericifolia), for hyperactivity and haste, will greatly enhance the powerful effects of the Cherry Plum-Impatiens-White Chestnut flower essence combination in releasing the particular kind of tension associated with insomnia. Note that Tetratheca ericifolia is a different species from the FES Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), which gives an entirely different effect.
With the above six essences it seems that practically all ordinary cases of insomnia (cases where insomnia does not appear in the context of serious mental problems) can be sufficiently treated. Again, in the cases where insomnia represents a symptom in the range of various forms of psychopathology, the above essences have proven to deal effectively with the problem when combined with other appropriate essences and psychotherapeutic modalities. Even in cases with psychotic elements, which seem to require pharmacological treatment, the above essences have proven helpful in enabling a significant reduction of stress and therefore of the amount of medication required and also in improving the quality of sleep in the suffering people. So, there seem to be no cases where flower essence treatment for insomnia should be considered as meaningless or contra-indicated; it should be beneficial in every case.
Difficulty in remaining asleep: interrupted sleep and terminal insomnia
“I wake up in the middle of the night…” / “I find myself waking up too early in the morning, sleepy and tired…”
A situation that needs special care is that of people who suddenly wake up in the night and cannot sleep again, or those who wake up too early in the morning, feeling tired and not having slept enough. Often, such awakenings are due to unpleasant, depressive or worrying dreams, although the person often is unable to remember such dreams. The person may remain awake, often for hours, before falling asleep again–if at all. At this time of the night, it is common for all sorts of unpleasant or worrying thoughts to flood the mind, and many problems present themselves in an exaggerated form, which nevertheless seem realistic to the person. A dose of the Five-Flower Formula or just Star of Bethlehem at awakening is effective as a single remedy. Better yet, used in combination with the basic essences for insomnia—especially in the initial stages of flower essence therapy—can prove to be very effective in helping the person go back to sleep. Essence doses can be repeated for as many times as needed during the night. This is why some people take care to have their flower essence bottles for sleep next to their beds when going to sleep. People report that in the first days of flower essence therapy, they need to spend some time awake before getting to sleep again, but “that doesn’t matter” because they “feel well, relaxed in their bed.” As the days go by, they find that they wake up less frequently during the night and fall asleep sooner after each interruption. Then there comes the time when they wake up but fall asleep again quite soon, without needing to take essences (“I just didn’t think of taking them, I felt I was just about to sleep again anyway”) and finally they don’t wake up at all during the night.
Morning Glory—sleep-wake schedule disturbance
“I stay awake at night and can only sleep in the morning…”
Some people experience a displacement of sleep from its natural rhythm. They prefer, or simply can not help, staying awake at night and are only able to sleep when the day dawns. The Morning Glory flower essence is great in restoring the unbalanced sleep-wake schedule. To my experience however, this particular unbalanced state often “covers” a hidden depressive mood, which may become apparent when we thus confront the “defense” that this particular sleep pattern represents. The person may come face to face with his or her avoidance of being fully present in life, due to depression or trauma. We must be ready to take care of the underlying situation then, using other appropriate essences, to deal with the painful issues often involved.
When insomnia persists: dealing with each case separately
In some cases, when the above flower essences do not entirely solve the problem, we need to consider particular issues in the person’s life which seem to create a more “individualized profile” of his or her insomnia. These more common issues can be found in the Flower Essence Repertory.
My practice has shown me that some of the most common problems often associated with insomnia include grief and sorrow, intense feelings of insecurity, various fears, and traits of hyperactivity in the personality.
Key essences for such issues, when used alone or in combination with the above-mentioned essences for insomnia, seem to offer considerable improvement in the problem.
Yerba Santa/Gorse/Borage—the role of grief and of sorrow in insomnia
Does the person experience feelings of despair in his or her life for some reason? After the cessation of daily activities which naturally keep the mind occupied during the day, the night provides one with the conditions to feel one’s suppressed emotional pain more intensely. Yerba Santa, Gorse, Borage and other appropriate essences may provide relief to the soul and grant such people the much needed peace of mind in order to rest.
Sweet Chestnut—“the dark night of the soul”
There are times when one may feel in great danger, totally helpless, unsupported, unprotected, and without anything or anyone to rely on. Such situations are not as rare in our society as they may sound. Impeding, disabling illness, threatened or existing unemployment, inability to respond to basic life tasks and other pressures may result in making the person feel as if “hanging in the air,” “losing the ground under their feet.” Sweet Chestnut will provide the person’s unconscious with the basic security and trust which is necessary for someone to “relax while in the void” and allow himself or herself to sleep.
Perhaps the person is over-active and has difficulty falling asleep because of the excitement and the tension which s/he continues to experience after finishing her/his work. Essences such as Aloe Vera and Vervain will help the body and the mind slow down and take a break from the enthusiasm and constant movement of the day and will give the organism permission to rest.
Many people, often older ones who live alone, are quite fearful and insecure, especially at night, whether they admit it or not, and whether they realize it or not. Mimulus and Five-Flower Formula prove quite helpful in many such cases of insomnia, as they calm the person and give him or her a sense of protection.
Many people tend to over-rely on the Five-Flower Formula, thinking that it can provide “rescue” for practically every problem. Of course, it will not serve as a panacea in each and every case, as it is often believed, but only when it is truly indicated.
Aspen will help when night fears are of a vague nature and their source is unknown, as when someone is afraid of “darkness,” “ghosts,” the “sounds of the night,” etc. Also, Aspen helps when someone is afraid to sleep after a bad dream. In that case, Honeysuckle also will help the person disassociate from the fearful dream atmosphere and stop recalling and re-experiencing the memory of the dream.
Gentian will help those who tend to give up easily, are too sceptical, or become easily disappointed (“No improvement seems to be happening yet…”).
Many other essences are known for their good effects in relieving insomnia. Lavender, Chamomile and Passion Flower (Passiflora) are only some of them.
Every person is different
Of course every essence that corresponds to the particular difficulties of a certain personality will help in overcoming sleeping problems by alleviating the causes of anxiety which prevent natural sleep in each particular case.
If despite all the above efforts, insomnia persists and even more so, if it is accompanied by signs of severe anxiety, depression etc., it is advisable to seek the help of a specialized physician or therapist.
Dr. Marina Angeli is a psychiatrist in private practice in Athens, Greece. Her psychotherapeutic background is in Family Therapy - the Systemic Approach. She is a graduate of the Flower Essence Society Practitioner Training and Certification Program.
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